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Sushi Zo: flawless

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Last night we celebrated my birthday, and I chose to do it at Sushi Zo because of the astounding number of positive reviews here on Chowhound. It was a great evening.

I've been eating sushi for about 35 years. I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable, but my preferences were largely established a long time ago and I haven't had any revelatory sushi experiences in many years.

Sushi Zo was something really new for me. I've only done omakase once, at a fine place in Tokyo 30 years ago, but I have no problem in leaving the choices to an expert chef. What became clear in following Keizo-san's instructions is that I habitually over-season what I eat with soy and wasabe. I make no apology for that, I enjoy the resultant flavors immensely, but I see that his is a much more delicate and subtle method of preparation. I probably won't change the way that I eat at more mundane establishments, but I thoroughly enjoyed his gentler method of preparation.

My companions were my wife and our best-friends couple. None of them are particularly expert about Japanese food, but all were game to try the omakase experience.

So, here's what we were served. I meant it when I wrote "flawless" above, but asterisks indicate the items I found especially delicious:

1. kummamoto oyster (popular favorite among the others, one of whom had never eaten an oyster of any description)
2. kampachi/amberjack (new to me)
3. ?? snapper
4. albacore
5. aji
6. scallop
7. *hamachi
8. *skipjack (I thought I knew this one, but it was an unexpected delight)
9. shima aji/yellow stripe jack (new to me)
10. *black snapper (I'm not usually a snapper fan, but this was a great exception)
11. *ankimo/monkfish liver
12. *butterfish (well named)
13. salmon
14. halibut
15. chu-toro
16. ono (new to me)
17. issaki (new to me)
18. aoyagi/orange clam
19. saba
20. anago
21. blue crab temaki (I requested this, based on previous reports, although we had already declared ourselves full)

We weren't served ikura, uni, sardine, kazunoko, or abalone before we called a halt. These are all things I like, so I'll know some of the things to request the next time.

We were served miso soup, yuzu juice and tea. With two "live" sakes (which I thought were superb, if pricey) and three draft Kirins, our pre-tip total was $315. We got off considerably easier than I expected.

My wife has a tiny appetite, so she usually orders sashimi rather than sushi to avoid getting over-filled with rice. We mentioned this to Keizo-san, and he served nearly all of her courses without rice. To my amazement, she stayed up with the rest of us through 20 courses -- she said she was afraid to stop and miss anything. All three companions declared this an outstanding and enlightening experience.

I have occasionally had toro, hamachi, salmon and katsuo tataki that I found even more blissful than any single item at Zo, admittedly with my heavy-handed soy/wasabe dousing. But every bite here was perfect; he is obviously the master that his reputation indicates. Keizo-san was personable and helpful, with no perceptible attitude. The two server ladies were attentive and pleasant (one warned me on the way in that they don't offer California roll -- as if). The decor is understated but pleasant, and Tuesday night would seem to be an ideal night to try Zo -- maybe six or eight other counter customers during our 2-hour visit, and two or three couples at tables. Basically Keizo-san was our personal chef for the evening.

Can I say anything more? Without flaw, really, and I can hardly wait to go back.

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  1. Great review! I've been to Kiriko and really enjoy it but it seems I should get myself to Culver City and give Sushi Zo a try.

    3 Replies
    1. re: donnival

      I think you may be confusing locations. This is on National Blvd. You might be thinking of K-Zo, that's the one in Culver City.

      1. re: Bob Brooks

        Both K-Zo and Sushi Zo are in Culver City. Sushi Zo is on National, whereas K-Zo is on Culver.

        1. re: SauceSupreme

          sushi zo is NOT in culver city. the zip is 90034, which is a los angeles zip code.

          however, sushi zo is about 1/2 mile from culver city's border.

    2. I could never say enough positive things about Sushi Zo. Every bite is a vacation. I'm glad you had such a great experience!

      1. We were there Saturday night for omakase. As usual, it's always better in concept than in reality. The fact is they choose the most boring and least flavorful fish for the omakase, and frankly we just kept waiting for even one thing to really wow us or dare I say even to enjoy. It felt mostly just like eating to fill up. I've given this place chance after chance and they do make a mean blue crab roll but it's certainly one of the two or three most overrated joints on this board.

        16 Replies
        1. re: jcwla

          Who has better sushi? I've never had a bad experience, nor have any of my friends. Although I've never done the omakase here. I just ask what fish they have that's not on the menu and make my own selections.

          1. re: PlatypusJ

            Urasawa of course.
            R-23 although the specials are better than the sushi (except the best-in-town albacore and great unagi).
            Hiko by a longshot.
            Sasabune by a longshot.
            Kiriko by a fair piece.

            1. re: jcwla

              Funny, that's how I feel about Sasabune. It's the same over and over again. Start with drenched albacore, end with a blue crab handroll. The fish is pre cut, there's no seasonal variety, the rice isn't properly cooled, seasoned, or shaped, and it's paste wasabi and not fresh wasabi. The quality is downright mediocre. At close to $75 per person for their "omakase" it's what I would consider an unacceptable nigiri experience.

              Zo and Mori are trends that I would like to see continue in LA. 7-8 years ago, you couldn't find fresh wasabi in LA if you tried (except maybe Ginza). You couldn't find kin medai either and you'd have to search pretty hard before you find sayori, shima aji, and properly prepared kohada. Places like Zo and Mori are actually making an effort to offer true omakase based on seasonal fish and it's about time.

              Sushi Zo is leagues beyond Sasabune and there's nothing about Sasabune that would qualify it as being even close to Zo when it comes to traditional edomae nigiri.

              1. re: Porthos

                I never get that awful albacore sashimi at Sasabune -- and steer my dining companions away from it too -- and I rarely get the blue crab roll although it's a decent one. As for the sushi, it's delicious and I love the rice. The last two groups I took -- within the month -- everyone said Sasabune was the best omakase they'd had. Obviously I don't agree with that but it's damn good.

                P.S.: At Zo on Saturday night they had institituted a "no wasabi" rule so citing it as evidence of a "trend" toward "fresh wasabi" (unless you're talking about the infinitesimal amount he deigned to put on maybe one or two of the fish) is problematic. Also the omakase at Zo has plenty of "repeaters" as it does everywhere, even Urasawa.

                1. re: jcwla

                  I am talking about the small amount of fresh wasabi that the itamae puts on the nigiri. It's fresh, much sweeter, and more subtle than the paste stuff. If you take a peek under each piece, it's there. You'll see that the fresh wasabi has a granular texture and that it doesn't dissolve in shoyu.

                  It's all about balance. So is the pre-saucing and asking you not to add additional shoyu or wasabi. When properly prepared, the fish, rice, wasabi, and shoyu are all balanced. Adding just the right amount of wasabi also attests to the skill of the itame. Nothing ruins good fish faster than a shot of wasabi to the nose...except maybe rice drenched in shoyu.

                  I think all serious sushi restaurants should use fresh wasabi and offer seasonal fish when available. I'm glad we're seeing the high end places in LA step it up in the variety section and in the use of fresh wasabi...Urasawa, Mori, Sushi Zo, even Kiriko and Nishimura (though I would never recommend Nishimura).

                  As for "repeaters" I'm not expecting 20 different new types each time I go, but when was the last time you had kin medai, madai, kan buri, suzuki, kohada, or sayori at Sassbune?

                  1. re: Porthos

                    You may consider an unnoticeable amount of wasabi to be "just the right amount." Only on one or two fish was it even there to any extent you could find even strip-searching it, and even then the fish were, as I said, so boring and devoid of flavor that tricking it up with wasabi wasn't going to make it "sing." These were the thoughts of everyone in our party -- it was, as usual at Zo, a total case of "okay, at some point the really yummy stuff is going to come, right?" except it never does. And a dime's worth of yuzu juice doesn't change that.

                2. re: Porthos

                  I agree fully with you, Porthos. I absolutely don't get paying $75 for pre-cut fish. Sushi Zo is just far superior in every way. Maybe there's some secret to ordering at Sasabune that I don't know, but if i'm paying for omakase I expect the best the chef has to offer that night and that's sad to me if pre-cut fish is the best.

                  1. re: mollyomormon

                    If you can't discern the quality difference (which literally sings on your taste buds) at Sushi Zo and the other much inferior places named in this thread (excepting Urasaw, which is 3.5 X's the price of Zo) then I now know where to not to look for my sushi rec's.

                3. re: jcwla

                  In my opinion Zo is far better than Sasabune in terms of selection and quality, but I'm happy that others don't share my view because it leaves more Zo for me!

                  1. re: jcwla

                    OMG! We agree on everything but R-23 which is now past it's prime.

                    1. re: jcwla

                      Sushi Sushi is better than all those places in terms of the quality of fish, appetizers, service and price. Lucky for me, all the CHounds jock Zo which makes it easy for me to enjoy a true sushi experience at Sushi Sushi without any hassle.

                  2. re: jcwla

                    interesting...seems like people on this board unanimously love Sushi Zo. I've never been but you're the first one to say that it sucks. Just out of curiosity, what are some of your favorite sushi joints??

                    1. re: jcwla

                      i'd love to hear what la sushi joints you find to be non-overrated cause i feel that i am missing out on mouth parties.

                      1. re: jcwla

                        Funny -- the blue crab roll was easily my least favorite item of the things we were served. I, too, would be interested to hear of the places you prefer over Zo.

                        1. re: Tony Miller

                          My wife and I helped the Millers celebrate his birthday last night at Sushi Zo and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
                          Not being a sushi expert, I'd like to comment that the reviews by other hounds on this board were very helpful to me. There were a number of items I'd never tried before and might have been a bit leery of but it was all wonderful -- if a little pricey by my personal standards. Worth every penny, though.
                          Anton

                        2. re: jcwla

                          This is PURE BLASPHEMY...... Hiko does not even hold a candle to Sushizo, and Sasabune is a sushi factory. Sad but true. The edomae sushi that is served by Keizo is as close to Tokyo as one can get in this sushi genre.

                        3. I'm glad you had a good birthday celebration. Happy birthday.

                          I've been to Sushi Zo couple of times, and I've enjoyed both visits, but I do find the pricing a little irregular. I was with my BF, we had one sake and one beer between the two of us, and the omakase was similar to yours (maybe even less... I think we had about 17 nigiri before we asked for the blue crab roll), and our bill was 250 for the both of us.

                          The fish list seems very similar to yours, so not sure why that is. I really need to check the bill before I pay it next time.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: spicychow

                            there are wildly varying prices between the different types of fish served.
                            for instance, the INCREDIBLE baby abalone (served fresh in it's own shell) is about three times the price of anything else.

                            this means that if you happen to be there on a night that the baby abalone and maybe two other very expensive fish happened to be available, your bill would be substantially different from what it would have been on a night without such availability.

                            (on the other hand, i've never seen abalone served served so perfectly and so beautifully.)

                            in my mind, the REASON to go to zo is to have this kind of very special food. i expect to pay more when i am lucky enough to be there when the really unusual /great stuff is available.

                            1. re: westsidegal

                              I agree with you absolutely about the different fish and different prices, but my omakase was almost identical to the OP's, just less since we didn't have Ono, Orange Clam, Anago, issaki or Saba. I did have uni though. (the abalone sounds wonderful, we didn't have that)

                              So just a minor observation. I'm sure we'll go back there sometime soon, and I'll look at the bill a little more carefully.

                          2. I can't believe they can make a no wasabi rule stick. Does Seiki still work there? Surely he must lend a voice of reason. I like to consume enough wasabi to where it's like smelling salts.

                            1. Can I ask all those people who love Sushi Zo if they love Echigo as well? I know someone who raves about both. I don't agree with him about Echigo, but am very excited to try Sushi Zo (but I hope I don't agree with him about Zo also).

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: waterisgood

                                I think there's much less care taken in the execution at Echigo and that the quality of the fish is generally a notch below. Last time I was there, the cuts of fish were somtimes sloppy and the rice temperature varied wildly between really hot and almost cold. Further, the rice fell apart on almost every piece as I went to pick it up so it was really hard to get it in one mouthful. Also much prefer the atmosphere at Zo.

                              2. That sounds like a fantastic dinner. It' s a shame you didn't try the uni. It's delicious!!!

                                The last few times I've been there, the rice hasn't been as warm as before. Otherwise, it's a fantastically stellar meal every time :)

                                1. I was there last night and ordered a la carte. The waitress arned us that it would be slower since we weren't doing omakase but our sushi actually came out at a really good clip. Highlights for me were the live sake (this stuff is unreal!), the yellowtail, the toro, the ankimo, the butterfish and the blue crab handrolls (I had two). We both ate until we were full and with two glasses of sake and a shared Kirin the bill was about $95 total pre tip. The place was hopping when we walked in around 9 and I was sure based on the sheer volume of posts on the board that at least some of the people eating must have been fellow hounds.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: mollyomormon

                                    I thought they closed at 9! If not this is great news.

                                    The live sake is the best I've ever tasted. I tried the sake sampler at Wabi Sabi 2 nights ago. Not only was I dissappointed with the sushi (too many novelty rolls, i'm spoiled now), but none of the sakes were as good as Zo's live.

                                  2. Note that Sushi Zo will be closed for a short vacation from July 23rd to July 29th. I wonder if he will hang a "Gone Fishing" sign on the door?

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: New Trial

                                      now that's funny!

                                    2. amazing...now the trend-suckers have moved on and zo is no longer "in favor" -- look who was right all along...

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: jcwla2

                                        your post is a non-sequitor.
                                        the fact that people are moving on, now, in the middle of 2009, does not in any way indicate that you were at all right in 2007.